Saving Social Security and Medicare; It can be done!

In watching the debates I could not help but feel that both candidates were long on words and short on economic details. In my opinion, that is because they really don’t have solutions to some of our most challenging issues. Then, in the Wednesday edition of the Wall Street Journal there was an op-ed piece suggesting that we give up the extra income from Social Security if we wait until seventy to draw. According to Social Security that would not save the government any money because it is actuarially calculated to be the same dollar amount as if you drew at your normal distribution age.

Social Security and Medicare expenses represent, by far, the largest outlays of the Federal Budget (Other than interest on our debt) and both programs will reach insolvency within the next two decades unless changes are made. I think it is important to note that Social Security’s problems stem from the fact that Congress ‘borrowed’ the money being set aside for Social Security and used it for other things, leaving a drawer full of IOUs. In short our government stole this money and now we have to fix the problem they left in its wake!

Medicare, on the other hand, is in trouble because the funding mechanisms were never built properly in the first place. The payroll tax withholdings and premiums are not self-funding. Our elected officials created a model that was flawed from the start. Great work guys!

But, regardless of how we got here, everyone recognizes that trouble lies ahead. Unfortunately, our elected officials remain unwilling to step up to the plate. No well-run corporation would ignore such a problem. Their executive team would get in a room; hash out the issues and work to create alternative solutions.

So, you are my team and we are about to do just that! The hell with the President and Congress! In doings so, I believe you will see that these problems can be solved and that the leaders of both parties, to include the current candidates, are failing us.

My opening premise is that we want to do as little harm as possible to benefits being provided and if possible, keep the solutions as simple as possible. At the end of the day we have to sell the American electorate on these changes and I believe that requires both of these assumptions.

We’ll start with Social Security because it is the easiest to fix. According to CNN, reporting in June of this year, the trust fund will run out money in 2034 and the following year only 77% of benefits could be paid. Keep in mind, as Charles Krauthammer, a noted political commentator wrote, “The Social Security trust fund is a fiction. … In other words, the Social Security trust fund contains—nothing.” That is, the Congress took $2.6 trillion and used it for other things!

Nevertheless, we are where we are and we must see reality as it really is. My suggested solutions are really quite simple. Today, we tax the first $118,000 of earnings for social security. IF we taxed all wage earnings, not stopping at the figure above it would resolve 76% of the shortfall! Seventy six percent!!!!!

It is the single most important thing we can do to resolve the problem! One must ask why we haven’t done that? My belief is that because it would affect higher wage earners and the rich Congress is reticent because that’s where they go for campaign donations. But, the centrist calls BALONEY on that! One change that is simple and fair and resolves three fourths of the problem! That’s a have to do.

Add to that one other change and we will resolve an additional 10 to 15%. Today, your tax dollars go into government bonds. IF, instead, we put that money into the stock market in a well-diversified portfolio it would earn substantially more than what it does presently. I was conservative with the stock market data. My source used an 8% return, which I lowered to 4 to 6%. But, even conservatively measured, we reach 86 to 91% of problem resolution with just these two changes. Thus, that’s a have to do as well.

Both of these data points can be found at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget website. It is a non-partisan, not for profit group. Their Board is made up of members from both sides of the isle. If you have difficulty, use Google Search for: “The Reformer, an interactive tool to fix Social Security”.

Third, we should consider allowing state and local employees, who presently are exempt from the system to enter the Social Security system and pay their taxes and receive benefits. This resolves another 9% of the problem and benefits those individuals at the same time.

Just these three steps could solve the entire Social Security problem but I have added one additional step as a cushion.

We must attack fraud and abuse in payments. The CRFB estimates that 5% of total outlay is fraudulent. That’s NUTS! We must dedicate enough enforcement to get the losses down to 1%. I don’t think we can eliminate fraud but five percent is outrageous! Most good bankers would not accept such a fraud factor.

With just four changes we have resolved the shortfall! That’s not bad for a little bit of research work and the time to write this edition of the centrist. We have not reduced benefits for anyone! We actually improved overall benefits for state and local employees. We cut fraud losses by eighty percent. We did it all without increasing the withholding rate although we are requiring everyone to pay that rate on all wage earnings. The centrist argues that is a worthwhile tradeoff to resolve an issue that potentially could hurt a lot of people.

But there remains one other step we have to take. Unfortunately, we can’t trust our elected officials! That’s a pretty sad state of affairs but it is true. They stole this money once before. We cannot allow that to happen again. Therefore, legislation must be passed that makes it illegal for the President or Congress to use our funding for anything except Social Security, regardless of how large the trust fund becomes.

That’s the ONLY way this will work. You may have other ideas or suggestions. Please, let’s hear them! But either way, we have a workable plan that resolves the issue and we should be demanding that Congress act!

Next week, we’ll get to work on Medicare. That’s a much bigger and more difficult problem to solve but we will give it a try!

Why Costco Can. Why Mylan and Wells Fargo Can’t!

Commenting on the performance of Mylan CEO Heather Bresch and Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf before Congress, Jeff Sonnenfeld, senior associate Dean for Leadership studies at the Yale School of Management said they both, “were unprepared and did not show genuine contrition.” He went on to add, “It’s pretty upsetting. In both cases there’s a huge loss of trust, public health trust and financial trust.”

I’ll say! At salaries of $18 and $19 million a year respectively you’d think you would get better than this! Having testified before Congress I can tell you that unless you and your staff are living in another universe you are prepared. Your remarks are prepared ahead of time and you’ve practiced the questions you know you will be asked.

Thus we have to ask what’s going on? To do that, I want to compare these firms with a company that excels and that millions of Americans swear by. Eighty five million people! That’s Costco, a firm that charges a minimum of $40 a year just to belong and people happily pay it to enjoy lower gasoline and pharmacy prices and an average markup of only 12% on most other products.

They don’t accomplish this as a not for profit. Indeed, they are a public company listed on the New York Stock exchange. With a market cap of $68 billion and 200,000 employees this is a big company. Their CEO earned $6 million in 2015, a modest amount in comparison to the other two CEOs we are going to talk about.

Mylan is roughly one third their size. Their market cap is $22 billion and they have 35,000 employees. Impressively, Costco generates a return on equity of 21 times while Mylan is at 8. So, Mylan is much smaller and their financial performance is not nearly as good. But, their CEO is paid three times that of the Costco CEO. Oh yeah, she lied about her educational background too. Little wonder then, that she doesn’t have a good story before Congress. Media reports cite the cost of epinephrine and the injector at about $11, If, as she alleges, their ‘real’ price is $150 per pen then the mark up is 13 times her true cost! That is a far different model than at Costco.

Indeed, she’s lucky her father is a Congressman or her questions might have been even tougher than they were. For at the end of Mylan’s annual report, around page 40, they write, “We put people first, trusting that profits will follow. This philosophy, which we call Doing Good and Doing Well, reflects our belief that Mylan is not just a company, we’re a cause.” BALONEY!

Indeed they may be a cause, just not the cause they want you to believe they are seeking. Their annual report conforms to Dutch law because Mylan is one of those firms that completed an inversion to avoid U.S. taxes! So, they charge Americans an outrageous price for the EpiPen while they legally cheat the country out of its taxes! Their real mission has nothing to do with taking good care of Americans. It’s found on page 8 of their annual report where they write, “we believe that we can maximize the profitability of our generic product opportunities….”

In other words, Doing Good and Doing Well are just words; marketing hype as it were. Their real actions tell a far different story.

So too at Wells Fargo. They are big with a $225 billion market cap and 265,000 employees. In a very difficult earnings environment Wells Fargo is generating 13 times equity, which makes it easy to understand why Warren Buffett owns so much of their stock. Without question, Mr. Stumpf has delivered in terms of financial performance.

Oh and they have nice words in their annual report as well. “We never take for granted the trust our customers have placed in us….” BALONEY!

Mr. Stumpf incredibly said in the Congressional hearing, “I disagree with the fact that this is a massive fraud.” Senator Warren was right when she said, “You squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket. And when it went all blew up … you went on television to blame thousands of $12 an hour employees.”

Once again their actions speak far louder than their words! That is why both firms have failed and why Costco and other firms like them succeed. At poor performing companies senior management is unable to bring strategy, focus and execution into alignment. In short, they aren’t leaders. But at Costco there is harmony in their words and in their deeds.

They write in their annual report, “Preserving and enhancing our Company culture, developed over more than three decades, remains an ‘imperative’.” They go on to say they are “focused on exceeding the expectations of our stakeholders – our members, our employees, our suppliers and our shareholders – each and every day,” and in their case they really mean it.

Their margins are low with respect to their customers, their average pay in 2013 was $21 an hour, their suppliers are happy and their stock has performed. In other words, the ‘words’ in their annual report are not just marketing. They reflect a strategy that the corporate team is focused on executing.

If we are to succeed as a Nation we need a lot more Costco’s and a whole let less of Mylans and Wells Fargos.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT; AMERICA’s RESPONSE TO A DEBT CRISIS

An acquaintance of mine once asked me to try and provide debt counseling to his daughter and son in law. They were mired in bills, far greater than they could service on their available income. That is not uncommon in America today.

Little wonder then that our Nation’s debt load is becoming so oppressive that it risks harming the future growth and well being of the country. By the end of 2016 our Federal debt outstanding is expected to be at 105.3% of the Nation’s GDP. Under President Clinton, with a strong economy backing him, the ratio fell to below 60%. Under President Bush it rose into the mid 60% range but under President Obama and an anemic economy we have soared like the long arm of a hockey stick!

The couple I attempted to counsel behaved as if everything was just fine. They continued to go out to dinner and saw no reason to cut back on discretionary spending. In short, they saw life as they wanted it to be rather than how it really was. After all they could always declare bankruptcy.

President Obama in his 2010 State of the Union speech observed, “We … still face the massive deficit we had when I took office….Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue to skyrocket….Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt.” I feel like saying, hello, is anybody home? Because, it has only gotten worse!

Now if the couple I tried to help had received a windfall of income what would you have recommended that they do with the money? Personally, I’d have made as strong a case as possible for them to pay down as much of their debt as possible. In fact, I would bet that all of the aforementioned Presidents would tell their kids that as well. For all his personal foibles, President Clinton at the 2012 Democratic Convention said, “We’ve got to deal with this big long term debt problem or it will deal with us.”

In March of this year the Wall Street Journal reported that the Government had taken in $110 billion in fines from the big banks as a result of the mortgage fiasco of 2008. Keeping it simple about half of that money went to help citizens in trouble via an approved list of organizations. About 50 billion went to the U.S. Treasury and they refused to tell the Journal how the money was to be used. I guess they weren’t sure how much the Domino’s bill was going to be.

More recently the press reported a proposed settlement with Deutsche Bank of $14 billion and of course, let’s not forget the gigantic settlement with Wells Fargo at $185 million for out and out fraud. I guess if you’re the hometown bank it’s easier to get off cheap.

The fact of the matter is that ‘we’ got a windfall of money but because our elected officials do not have the will to deal with our debt problem we are just going to spend the money. Even worse we are not going to tell our citizenry how it will be spent. That’s just plain wrong.

Solving the debt problem is going to be painful. Of that there is no question. But, to solve it we have to accept that we have a problem. The headline on page one of today’s Wall Street Journal reads, “Missing from 2016 race: Budget Deficit Hawks. In point of fact they both want to incur tens of billions of dollars of more debt. Why? It’s easier to get elected when you tell your friends and neighbors you are going to help them!

In the 2015 Federal budget Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security represent $2.33 trillion of spending with military spending the next largest chunk at $609 billion. That’s today. But, two others issues are likely to exacerbate our problems going forward. The first is demographics. Presently there are 4 workers for every retiree. By 2046, that is expected to fall to 2.6 to 1. That means either enormous increases in taxes or even more deficit spending. Second, keep in mind that interest rates are unrealistically low at present. When they rise, debt servicing costs will rise materially, further exacerbating our problems.

I don’t want to kid you, there is no easy fix. No one is going to cut Social Security or Medicare. Seniors vote. Nor are we going to cut the military much if at all. The world is a dangerous place. While we probably do need to raise taxes some on the rich the fact is that there are not enough of them. Even if we taxed them at 100% it would not solve our problem.

We do need to make tax inversions illegal. That’s where big U.S. based corporations take advantage of all that America does offer but move their headquarters for tax purposes to a foreign country depriving our Nation of material amounts of income. To be honest, those kinds of moves are bull from the standpoint of taking care of America. It is unacceptable corporate behavior. Just because it is legal doesn’t make it right. But it won’t solve the problem either.

The real solution lies elsewhere. Simply put there are two levers, income and expense. Grow the country’s production (GDP) faster than expenses and the ratio falls. Indeed according to FactCheck.org that is exactly what happened during the Clinton Administration.

“The Clinton years showed the effects of a large tax increase that Clinton pushed through in his first year…..It fell almost exclusively on upper-income taxpayers. Clinton’s fiscal 1994 budget also contained some spending restraints. An equally if not more powerful influence was the booming economy and huge gains in the stock markets, the so-called dot-com bubble, which brought in hundreds of millions in unanticipated tax revenue from taxes on capital gains and rising salaries.” (underlining is mine) The result was that the deficit ratio fell.

So, the long and the short of it is that we must get our growth engine going again and we can’t just be a service economy. We are massive creators of technology but production goes offshore. U.S. based manufacturers still can’t build a car as well as the Japanese and they build them in America!

We must change the national debate from Trumpian immigration control and walls or Mrs. Clinton’s desire for $20 billion for expanding school choice or $2.5 billion for guaranteed paid maternity leave to what really matters which is figuring out how to once again be both an innovation engine and a manufacturing center. That is the only way we have a chance of really changing our Nation’s debt situation. It would be really hard to accomplish that which is why our candidates avoid the subject like the plague.

As an electorate we have the opportunity to demand such a conversation if we take that responsibility on. But, let’s start small and get our feet wet. Mr. or Ms. President; when we get windfall income like the bank fines (a) make sure the penalty is meaningful because it is not in the Wells Fargo case and (b) just like you would counsel your kids, use that money as a matter of discipline to pay down the debt.

Sometimes it is the principle of things that counts.

If a Bank robber got caught stealing $2.5 million, What Would Wells Fargo do?

“Our entire culture is centered on doing what is right for our customers,” John Stumpf, the CEO of Wells Fargo wrote to his employees after the bank agreed to pay $185 million in fines for opening 1,534,280 illegal deposit accounts and 565,443 fraudulent credit card applications since January 2011 which generated about $2.5 million in fee income. Every single one of these accounts was opened without the knowledge or permission of the Wells Fargo customers!

You can’t make stuff like this up! One of my readers wants me to talk a little bit more about my qualifications to write about the subjects I choose. In this instance, I have about 40 years experience in the financial services industry and I was the CEO of PenFed for 14 years.

I must tell you that with a staff that spanned the globe there was no way in the world that I could know what an employee in Japan might be doing at any given moment in time. That is a fact.

On the other hand I never had to fire 5300 employees for, in essence, stealing $2.5 million from our members. I’m going to refer to those employees as members of the Stumpf gang, because Mr. Stumpf spoke yesterday at a conference and said, “the bank does not have a bad culture, but that it has been working to weed out bad behavior.”

You have got to be kidding! When 5300 employees over five years illegally open two million accounts, move money and charges fees all without the knowledge or consent of the customer, most CEOs are going to not only recognize that they have a serious problem; they are going to know that their strategy, focus and execution, the very essence of what a CEO is charged with doing, is flawed.

Not Mr. Stumpf who at first, “wouldn’t comment on who was ultimately responsible” for the practices that led to 2 million fraudulent accounts being opened. Then, he and his staff blamed the employees. Furthermore he is on record as saying that the senior executive who oversaw the unit where all this illegal activity took place, “was a standard bearer of our culture and a champion for our customers.”

Then Mr. Stumpf who went on Mad Money and told Jim Cramer the numbers are wrong. There’s just one problem with that. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the source of those numbers and they come from an independent third party analysis done by the bank itself.

So, even if Mr. Stumpf isn’t clear on what took place and why I think it is important that we are. When you open an account with a financial institution you have a valid expectation that they will handle your account with the utmost of fiduciary responsibility. That means they will look out for your interests and not do bad things to you or with your money.

Let’s also be clear that as the CEO Mr. Stumpf is ultimately responsible for the fiduciary responsibilities of the bank. Second, he is responsible and accountable for the corporate strategy as well as insuring that the corporate culture is sound and understood by all employees. Third, he is responsible and accountable for the focus and execution of his direct reports who in this case manage retail banking, human resources and the audit staff.

This has been going on for at least five years! If Mr. Stumpf is to be believed the bank fired one thousand employees every year for five years for the exact same problem. That can only mean one thing; the hiring practices, management and internal controls at Wells Fargo were flawed for that entire period.

Now what do you think would happen if a bank robber came in and stole $2.5 million from Wells Fargo? Do you think the bank would wait five years to call the FBI? Likewise do you think they would wait five years to shore up their security procedures? Of course not.

The difference here is that the bank was making money … lots of money and that was the strategy, focus and execution of the team. It was also the corporate culture as well. Any errors were simply a cost of doing business.

The retiring senior executive in charge of retail banking was lauded for her results in being the standard bearer of their culture. She is retiring with a $125 million payout. That exemplifies what the real corporate culture at Wells Fargo is actually all about.

The fine of $185 million is simply a drop in the bucket relative to Wells Fargo’s net earnings. In the real Wells Fargo culture it too is just a cost of doing business.

But, the question for us is what becomes of the CEO? Mr. Stumpf, of course, wants to stay as the head of his gang. He told Jim Cramer that on his show. That’s not unexpected. He too is making a lot of money.

But in all honesty, do we want him running this business? He may be a very nice person. I don’t know him. What I do know is that great CEOs understand strategy, focus, execution and corporate culture. Poor ones do not. Despite Mr. Stumpf’s protestations the corporate culture at Wells Fargo is flawed as is his own leadership and oversite of strategy, focus and execution.

Mr. Stumpf has failed badly. While Wells Fargo can be a great company again it is not likely to be so under its current leadership. Just like the bank robber, the Stumpf gang of customer robbers needs to go!

The American Centrist

This blog is about current events and politics. It had its formation many years ago in a corporate meeting room where our executive team met with great frequency to discuss issues, solve problems and plan for the future.

That team had intellectual, political and creative breadth that spanned the gamut from conservative to liberal; from traditionalists to reformers.

It was that breadth and our ability to work together as a team that led to our success. Most importantly, it was our ability to listen to one another, to see life as it really is and to then deal with it that led to our success. That is what is lacking in today’s America be it in Congress or simply out on the street.

We have become a polarized nation; a nation of my way or the highway. In doing so we have lost part of what made America great. This blog, therefore, is about the American Centrist.

I believe that many Americans, in the words of a friend of mine, believe in being both socially and fiscally responsible. While the extremes get all of the media attention the centrist has a far different agenda and one that is much more demanding.

Take the time to go to HillaryClinton.com and DonaldTrump.com; the official websites of both.

At Mrs. Clinton’s site you will see a raft of positions covering a wide breadth of subjects. There are any number of platforms many of which will cost a lot of money. Her plan is to increase taxes on the rich and corporations. But there is no hard data to estimate what the costs or tax increases are going to be. Nor is there any factual detail on how we will improve our existing financial condition. We have absolutely no idea whether her plan works socially and fiscally.

At Mr. Trump’s site you are going to see material tax cuts that in theory are going to put more people to work and drive the economy forward. Other than the wall, there is very little time spent on social responsibility. His plan is just as bereft of financial data as his opponent.

So we are left with polar positions neither of which forge a plan that is both socially responsible and fiscally sound. In Congress, our elected representatives mirror that kind of thinking. There is no willingness to work together, to compromise and to come up with legislation that is balanced and will guide the nation forward. As a result we have been living in an extended period of stalemate with no end in sight. That’s what’s wrong with America today.

To be successful as a Nation we must change the rhetoric and the dialogue. That is what this blog is going to be all about. If you are an ardent Democrat or Republican I ask you to begin to think differently about the views of the other side. I believe that leadership is about embracing everyone for it is only when everyone benefits that society truly moves ahead.

My vision is simple. We must recognize that all people are equal and that together, to borrow a phrase from General McCrystal we must be a team of teams. The exclusionary rhetoric of racism, religion, sexism or homophobia isn’t what made America great and it isn’t how teams operate.

Second, we must have a goal of benefiting all Americans in everything we do. Government, corporations and the citizenry all must have a real responsibility to work together to accomplish that.

Third, We must insure that our education system is ranked number one in the world for every child regardless of socioeconomic status. Bluntly, if we don’t do that America cannot continue to reign supreme.

Fourth, together we must grow jobs. It begins with communities and parents accepting the responsibility for insuring that their children go to school, learn and are prepared to work in the future of America. Then, it becomes the job of government and industry to supply enough quality, well paying jobs. Offshoring jobs and corporate profits are the antithesis of this objective.

Fifth, we must take care of all Americans to the best of our ability. We can’t do everything for everyone but the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, the sick and the myriad of minorities in America must be treated with equality, respect and an honest effort to do the best for them that we can. That is true of our environment as well. This is our social conscience.

Sixth, the world is a very dangerous place. We must have a military that is second to none. But, just as with our social conscience, we can’t do everything for everyone. We must control expenditures. In 2015 America spent 37% of the world’s total military budget. Our expenditures are about equal to that of the next seven largest military budgets combined to include China and Russia.

We must do all of this in a fiscally responsible manner. Otherwise, tax increases for everyone is the only way in which we can achieve our seventh and final objective.

We must begin to repair the financial excesses of the past. That is no small task in and of itself. But we must do that while moving the Nation forward at the same time. That will be a herculean task that can only be accomplished if our entire society is working together as a team.

That can’t be done without embracing everyone’s thinking, compromising and having patience. In truth we need to come together as centrists and demand change.

That is what this blog will be about.

Clinton, Kaepernick, Mylan and Trump

Clinton, Kaepernick, Mylan and Trump

Politics makes for strange bedfellows. That’s probably the case here. But today’s subject deals with the rights and obligations of our citizens if we are to make our Nation a better place.

For the most part we are all sensitive to our rights. Mylan had the ‘right’ to raise fees on the Epipen. It wasn’t illegal. Colin Kaepernick had the right not to stand for the National Anthem. Our children have the right to a public education. Perhaps most of all, we pride ourselves on the rights of democracy and all that means.

But, in too many instances we do not think about our responsibilities as citizens. Sure, we value our military and their willingness to put their lives on the line for our freedom. Most of us don’t serve in modern America, but we appreciate those that do.

But, as a society, we set a very low bar relative to our own obligations to our Nation. It is election season so let’s take voting as one example. In ancient Rome elections could take more than a day because so many people voted. But in 2012 45% of eligible voters failed to vote in the national election. Off year election turnout is even worse. The fact that huge numbers of Americans fail to accept this most basic responsibility necessary for a robust democracy is a horrendous problem. President Bush used to speak about an ownership society. Electing our leaders is the most basic ownership right of our democracy and everyone must participate for it to remain so.

Today, 82% of Americans graduate high school. But, America ranks 35th in the world in test scores for math and 27th in science according to a Pew Research Study done in 2012. It’s a little dated but it certainly makes the point. Twenty years ago the U.S. ranked number one. Is it little wonder that our citizens don’t understand their civic responsibilities? America’s public school systems and too many of our parents have failed in their efforts to provide for America’s future.

Colin Kaepernick sat down several weeks ago during the playing of the National Anthem to protest the treatment of African Americans. By all accounts he did well academically in both high school and college. But effective citizen participation requires more than simply silent opposition. It requires active intelligent participation. Having raised awareness through his actions, continuing to silently take a knee is denigrating to our flag, our troops and our Nation. To be a responsible citizen requires engaging in the difficult discussions that lead to change. Only by doing so can Mr. Kaepernick be a leader.

We know for certain, however, that Heather Bresch, despite being the CEO of Mylan is not a leader. She claimed to have completed an MBA at West Virginia University when, in fact, she did not. Having graduated both high school and college the Centrist is 100% certain that one knows when one has graduated. What Ms. Bresch does know is what earnings objectives are necessary for her team to bonus. Despite her protestations to the contrary it appears that those achievements are far more important than saving the lives of children. Her lack of honesty and integrity represents everything an American leader cannot be.

America’s continued success is not guaranteed. It is dependent upon the active participation of all of our citizens, privately as well as in government and industry. It is only going to happen if, at every level, we focus on the betterment of everyone. That can only happen if we all truly lead.

How can we do that? Well, the Centrist has some thoughts and we’d love to hear yours as well.

First, we cannot continue to attack those with whom we differ. Great institutions respect all of their members and actually seek diversity of opinion. We can’t allow our politicians to pander to hate. We must demand more of them. Think Donald Trump and his treatment of a Blue Star family.

Second, we must have a sense of right and wrong that goes beyond simply not breaking the law. Think Hillary Clinton and the emails or Ms. Bresch and the Epipen. We must demand much more of ourselves and of our leaders. Too many politicians are beholden to special interest groups; too many of our CEOs think only of themselves and their stock price. Think Wells Fargo, which will be the subject of our next post. To insure America’s future requires caring about all Americans.

The centrist argues that the first step in this process lies with the education of every child so that they are as prepared as possible, not to just take a knee but to be active and meaningful participants in society. In far too many instances both parents and our public school systems are failing on that score.

Parents must accept more responsibility for ensuring that their children go to school, study and get passing grades. They can’t ignore it or blame the school system. Nevertheless, only a quality education can break the cycle of poverty and thus improve our nation. Our public schools are not providing that level of leadership and teaching based upon the test scores noted above. We must hold both parents and educators responsible and accountable for changing this.

Similarly we, as citizens, must do a better job of participating in our democracy. Every citizen over 18 must vote in every election unless they are ill. In ancient Rome they stood in line for hours to vote. The excuse that “I” don’t like any of the candidates is just that, an excuse. In our Presidential election this year there is a third party ticket, a green ticket and even a write in candidate authorized in all 50 states. Everyone can find someone to vote for.

The more we talk about and take seriously our collective roles and responsibilities the better off we will be. It is up to us to create better leaders than Bresch, Clinton, Kaepernick or Trump.